“If you’re nothing without a gold medal, you’ll be nothing with it”.
I love these words from Australian Olympic gold medal swimmer, Liesel Jones, spoken last week on Insight on SBS television. The panel discussion program delved into our beliefs and behaviours around success and mediocrity in modern Australia.
Liesel reflected that pouring heart and soul into the achievement of an external reward such as an Olympic gold medal certainly brings its benefits but it also has a downside. She shared her sense of uncertainty about who she really was when her swimming career ended at the ripe old age of 27. Her whole identity had been wrapped up in being a champion swimmer since she was a child. What could possibly replace the rigid discipline, intense demands and thrilling victories of her life as an elite athlete once she retired?
Liesel’s words resonate with me as, in my own – less ‘elite athlete-like’, more ‘regular human being-like’ – way, my self-regard is more closely linked to my sense of achievement and daily productivity than I would like. You know, money earned, housework done, larder stocked, children picked up and dropped at school on time, business development on track, yoga and meditation practice adhered to, family and friends birthdays remembered, that sort of stuff.
When I’m on top of all the demands of daily life, I feel good about myself. When my inner voice or my body (usually through ill health) tells me to slow down and rest to allow emotions to process and energy to build again, I typically resist and push on through.
I feel uncomfortable having a day, let alone a week, that in my assessment has been unproductive. And yet, what Liesel says is so beautifully true. When we can love ourselves simply for who we are, that means without conditions, none of this matters one little bit.
Do we demand that a small child be productive in their day? Do we love a three year-old more when they produce a finger painting or a play-doh blob than when they’ve just woken up from a nap? Not really.
It feels to me that buying into the idea that success at elite levels of anything be it business, sport or the arts, will guarantee happiness, is a path to certain disappointment. What some of the families on this TV program are promoting to their children is; your career/sporting success is your whole identity and your value in the world.
I guess balance is the key, some people are destined to be truly great at something, stand out in the crowd and excel. But what happens to all those “almost made-its” who number far greater than the champions? Where are they left? Some have great resilience and bounce back, often finding happiness by re-framing their idea of success, others never recover.
I feel teaching our children from babyhood that they are inherently valuable and loved is a good starting point. Letting them be themselves and helping them to understand that it’s fun to master skills at school and in their sports and hobbies and it’s also good to just be still and do nothing. One isn’t better than the other and we are no less worthwhile as a person if what we love doing doesn’t fit into mainstream society’s narrow idea of ‘success’.
Plus where does fun and creativity or even originality fit into this picture?
Enough said. Love you for you.